6 city Catholic schools targeted Archdiocese to study their struggles, future in southeastern area

July 24, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

The Archdiocese of Baltimore is taking a hard look at six troubled Roman Catholic schools in the city's southeast, part of a new study that could lead to mergers and other changes in the shape of Catholic education.

The Southeast Baltimore Catholic Education Project, to be announced today, will examine the schools -- an integral part of Canton and Highlandtown for decades, but which are having trouble attracting students or maintaining financial stability.

"To keep tuition low, they have been scraping by," said archdiocesan spokesman Bill Blaul.

In the project -- a forerunner to a citywide study and fall fund-raising campaign -- 18 people from the schools and surrounding neighborhoods will study the buildings, finances, curricula, staffing, enrollment and demographics. They will make recommendations on the future of the schools to Cardinal William H. Keeler in January.

Despite persistent rumors, the archdiocese is not closing any schools this fall. But because of declining enrollments in some of the six and changing demographics that put tuition beyond the reach of many neighborhood families, the study could lead to major changes.

"Our goal is not to develop a consolidation plan -- it is to strengthen the presence of Catholic schools in Southeast Baltimore," Keeler said.

The schools under study are Holy Rosary, on South Chester Street; St. Elizabeth of Hungary, North Lakewood Avenue; Our Lady of Pompei, South Conkling Street; Our Lady of Fatima, East Pratt Street; Bishop John Neumann, Foster Avenue; and Father Kolbe, South Kenwood Avenue.

"I see this as a real hope for Southeast Baltimore," said Donna Stadler, principal of Holy Rosary. "What can we as a group come up with to maintain a quality Catholic education in southeast Baltimore? If the schools go, there goes the community."

Holy Rosary had 109 students last year, but has 67 registered in first through eighth grades this fall, Stadler said. The four-story building has a capacity of 600 students, Blaul said.

Over the past two years, the debt-ridden school has had to drop its prekindergarten and kindergarten programs and combine grades, Stadler said.

Four of the six schools go from prekindergarten through eighth grades; Holy Rosary starts with first grade and Our Lady of Pompei goes through 12th grade. Last year, the six had 1,365 students and a capacity for more than 3,000.

When the southeast project is complete, the archdiocese intends to conduct similar studies in other parts of the city -- and perhaps throughout the archdiocese, said Joan Worthington Howington, a consultant for the archdiocese.

The status of Catholic schools in the city differs markedly from other areas, where many elementary and high schools have waiting lists.

Catholic school enrollment has been growing 2 percent to 3 percent a year in the archdiocese -- which includes nine counties and Baltimore -- since 1992. But the city's Catholic school enrollment has declined 0.5 percent last year.

Archdiocesan officials say reasons for the slipping enrollment include decreasing population, changing demographics caused by the loss of jobs in heavy industry, and the dispersion of ethnic groups that built and supported many parish schools.

Despite these changes, "We're not going to move out of the city," Blaul said.

Sister Barbara Ann "Bobby" English, the project's coordinator, said the chances of the six schools remaining as they are today are "very remote. But it's very possible that in all six sites, something extremely good will happen."

"We're really looking at a total picture and not just the traditional kindergarten to eighth grade" education, added Howington.

"There are going to be grade schools," but there also may be special education and adult literacy programs in these schools.

With elementary school tuition averaging $2,500 a year, many city families cannot afford parochial school education, Blaul said. Each year, the archdiocese provides more than $1 million in tuition assistance, "but we need more," he added.

This fall, the archdiocese will launch its first corporate fund-raising campaign, appealing to local businesses for donations.

"The pitch is basically: 'Good schools make good neighborhoods,' " Blaul said. "Put an inner-city kid in a Catholic school, and you are giving him a real start in life."

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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